“Puffer jacket”

When this photo of model Emily Ratajkowski appeared in US Magazine two years ago, the caption was “Are red puffers winter 2020’s It coat?” Credit: Broadimage/Shutterstock

Reader Key from New Zealand comments:

Is “puffer jacket” a NOOB?… I’ve noticed several journalists using it recently; it first stood out to me in an Atlantic piece where (American) Marina Koren said Jeff Bezos was wearing a “puffer jacket” to one of his space things. I believe the usual American term is “down jacket”?

That caught my attention, first since I really wasn’t aware of the term, and second because Marina Koren was once a journalism student in the program in which I taught, at the University of Delaware.

It proves to be an interesting (to me) story. It seems to start in 1973, when an Englishwoman named Penny Rogers founded a company called Puffa in order to produce and sell a down-filled jacket. According to a 2017 article, she “was inspired by quilted jackets she saw on her travels to the US and Canada. peaked in popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, attracting high-profile fans such as Diana, Princess of Wales, and giving British model Jodie Kidd her first modelling job.”

Here’s the first interesting quirk. I would imagine Rogers chose the company’s name in recognition of the British non-rhotic pronunciation of the word “puffer”–and hence that there was already such a thing as a “puffer” or “puffer jacket.” But that does not seem to be the case. The first references I’ve been able to find to a “puffer jacket” comes from a series of advertisements in 1976-’81 from the American retailer Sears, which offered such a garment and apparently invented a name for it.

The above ad comes from the Centralia (Washington) Daily Chronicle, and according to newspapers.com was published on October 5, 1976. The OED‘s first cite for “puffer jacket” is from another Washington newspaper on October 6, 1976, which means I have antedated it by one day. Hurray for me.

As for “Puffa,” the OED defines it as “a quilted jacket or parka filled with a soft, lightweight insulating material such as down” and cites The Official Sloane Ranger Handbook in 1982: “In winter, you put on extra jumpers or a sleeveless Puffa.” “Puffa jacket” shows up in a British source in 1985; two years later, the novel The Sound of Murder, by Marjorie Hanxman, refers to “a slim young man in a puffer jacket.”

According to Google Books Ngram Viewer, “puffer jacket” overtook “puffa jacket” (and “Puffa jacket”–my search was case insensitive) in precisely 2013:

Now, as to the issue of NOOB-ness, both “puffa” and “puffer” qualify, though the former pretty much only appears in reference to the brand. Ngram Viewer shows “puffer jacket” rising steadily here since about 2000, though it’s still far outstripped by British use.

Ngram Viewer’s data only goes up to 2019, but, as Key observes, “puffer jacket” shows up even more frequently in the U.S. since then. The term appeared in the New York Times six times in 2021, and once so far this year, in a profile of the photographer Clifton Mooney (Instagram handle @gauchecowboy). The article says that Mooney photographed, “for the most recent issue of Interview, the ‘Saturday Night Live’ breakout star Bowen Yang, who wore a leather harness beneath a baby pink puffer jacket, then posted the pics to Instagram with the caption, ‘dream @gauchecowboy shots.’”

One final point. It’s significant that Key is from New Zealand because the term appears to be really popular there. Here’s the geographical breakdown of “puffer jacket” from the News on the Web (NOW) corpus, which charts websites since 2010:

“Good on You” (not “Ya”)

The American clothing chain Men’s Wearhouse has a new ad campaign. You don’t have to watch the whole thing; the relevant bit comes in the last three seconds.

I’ve covered the expression “Good on (someone, usually “you”) a couple of times, and I’m slightly embarrassed to see that the second time I did it, I had forgotten the first time. Anyhoo, the Men’s Wearhouse spot is consistent with usual American–as opposed to the original Australian–pronunciation. That is, the announcer says. “Good on you,” as opposed to the Australian “Good on ya.” Of course, with the attempted pun (Men’s Wearhouse clothes supposedly look good on its customers), he would have to.


“Anorak” (the jacket)

My learned colleague Lynne Murphy regularly tweets a “Difference of the Day” (#DotD), pointing out cases where the U.K. and the U.S. use different terms for the same thing. A few days ago, she tweeted

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Several commenters pointed out the similar word “anorak.” And indeed it’s hard to tell them apart by their OED definitions:

Anorak: “A weatherproof jacket of skin or cloth, with hood attached, worn by the Inuit in Greenland; a similar garment elsewhere.” (The first citation is from 1924, the first one in a non-Innuit general sense from 1937.)

Cagoule: “A lightweight, waterproof (or windproof) hooded garment resembling an anorak, worn originally by mountaineers and now generally.”

The first cite for “cagoule” is in 1952 but it didn’t start climbing in popularity till the late 1970s, as this Google Ngram Viewer graph suggests (it still hasn’t taken off in the U.S.):

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Why then? Lynne cleverly suggested, “Looks like ‘cagoule’ in UK is partly motivated by avoiding ‘anorak’ b/c it has a negative sense in BrE.” Negative is right. Here’s the relevant OED entry for “anorak”:

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This insulting “anorak” (similar to “train-spotter”) hasn’t caught on in the U.S., but the literal term has. It’s been used 414 times by the New York Times, including nineteen since the start of 2018. For example, this is from a December 2018 fashion article on “war-core” clothing.

A surfeit of dystopian apparel was evident on the men’s wear runways this year.
Junya Watanabe showed nylon anoraks, wool lumberjack jackets and firefighter coats adorned with the kind of bright reflective tape usually seen on school crossing guards.
Prada trotted out padded nylon vests that look like they could repel bullets and oversize rain suits that looked like they could protect against nuclear fallout.
And for his Calvin Klein Collection show in February, Raf Simons, the creative director, dressed the male models in safety-cone-orange jumpsuits, knee-high waders and knit balaclavas, all of which gave new meaning to the term “fashion emergency.”

“War-core” garb. On the left, a Watanabe anorak. I think.


The ever-vigilant Nancy Friedman sends along this image from  “an NYC-based clothing company”:

The key bit is the “elasticated” waistband. Nancy notes, “In my experience, ‘elasticated’ is UK, ‘elasticized’ is US.”

She’s definitely right about that. The citations for ‘elasticated’ in the OED are all from British sources, starting from the first, in 1925, from Chamber’s Journal: ” A sense of the joy of power silkened and elasticated.”

(And by the way, the fact that that use is metaphorical suggests that “elasticated” had been around for a while beforehand. And sure enough, Google Books yields many antedates, the first being in an 1845 edition of the Repertory of patent inventions and other discoveries. It’s for innovations in the manufacture and use of “elastic fabrics.”

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A Google Ngram Viewer chart shows that use of “elasticated” didn’t pick up until the 1950s, and was far more common in Britain than the U.S.

The chart shows some American use–but I wouldn’t count Nancy’s ad as an example. That’s because the clothing company, A Day, according to its website, appears to be more global than New Yorky. The “About” section reports: “As a team, we embrace being international citizens — our founders Meg (yoga teacher) and Nina (former competitive gymnast) were born in Beijing and Frankfurt, eventually connecting in London and moving together to New York.”

The legit American uses of “elasticated” are sparse and specialized enough that I’m going to tag it “On the Radar.” It’s appeared in the New York Times nineteen times, mostly uttered or written by Brits. It’s also appeared mostly in the fashion pages, including in 2014, when (American) Alex Vudela described a “pentagonal polka dot shirt with an elasticated hem, worn with a matching tie and trainers.”

A couple of the Times references are to Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play Travesties, which is based on real-life characters such as James Joyce. Another, lesser-known real-life character, Henry Carr, remembers Joyce working on Ulysses, although, he says, “at that time we were still calling it (I hope memory serves) by its original title, Elasticated Bloomers.” This factoid was pretty clearly made up by Stoppard, yet a Times review of a 1989 revival of the play took it as fact: mentioning the novel and then adding a parenthetical “(or ‘Elasticated Bloomers,’ as it was originally titled).” More recently, someone posted on Twitter in 2016:

The tweet didn’t get any likes, comments, or retweets, so I repeat the query here. Is it true? I hope so, too.



I heard a reference on a TV commercial the other day to the “Axe Peace Range”–Axe being a brand of men’s deodorant and such, peace being peace, and “range” being, as I dimly recalled once having learned, the British word for what Americans call “line” (as in “product line”) or “collection.”

To be sure, Axe is a product from Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch company, but my TV is in the U. S. of A., not England or Holland. Unilever’s (American) website notes:

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I couldn’t help noticing that this single page contains no fewer than six Britishisms, starting with range and the inverted commas in the screenshot above. The others: European date format, logical punctuation, and two different spellings. The first is organisation. The second is in reference to the advert where the Peace Range was first announced, on that quintessential American programme The Super Bowl.

Update: As reader Phoebus notes, below, I mistakenly described the Unilever site I saw and quoted. On the company’s American site, there seems to be only one Britishism. That’s right, range.




As noted in such past entries as stockists and opening hours, a number of U.S. retailers have lately affected British terminology, presumably in an attempt to seem hip or classy. Sara Wilson alerted me to a wrinkle on the trend that can be seen in the the clothing purveyor Boden. The company originated in the U.K. but has a robust U.S. website on which, if anything, it seems to use more Britishisms than on its British one. Sara pointed out this banner ad:

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She didn’t know what snaffle means, nor, in fact, if the expression being used was snaffle, snaffle up, or snaffle up to. Neither did I till I looked it up in the OED, whose definition for snaffle is: “To appropriate, seize, catch, snatch.” “I soon snaffled a double role in a big spectacle.”–Sunday Express, 1928. (The OED notes that the verb is sometimes rendered as snaffle up, but I believe that is not the case in the Boden ad, as it would render the word “to” meaningless. Rather, the phrase “up to” signifies some discounts are less than 40 percent.)

The Boden site is studded with flamboyant Britishisms. They call sweaters jumpers, a word that hasn’t been uttered on these shores since the film About a Boy. There are references to honour, sackings (for firings), offers (for sales), a call centre (in Pittston PA), and a range (what Americans would call a line). Logical punctuation is employed, and anyone with a question is instructed to call (why not ring?) a customer care representative on 1-866-206-9508 (needless to say, an American phone number).

Boden, could you be any more precious?

“Ae” spelling

I was tempted to categorize this as a “Faux NOOB” because the ae combination in such forms as orthopaedics, paediatrics and archaeology derive from ancient Greek and aren’t specifically British. But until a recent pronounced uptick, they have traditionally been found much more commonly in Britain than in the U.S. Thus I feel they represent a proper NOOB.

I do, however, enthusiastically put them in a new category I’ve just created: “Commerce.” That’s because no one (or no American) on his or her own would think to write paediatrician rather than pediatrician. Rather, the ae form in this word and in orthopaedic appears on every billboard and print advertisement I see these days because some ad-person thought they sounded classy, official and vaguely British. (Remind me to retroactively put bespoke and stockist in this category as well.)

A special case is encyclopaedia. According to the OED, that spelling would have become “obsolete” in the late 19th century were it not used by the “Encyclopaedia Britannica” and other reference works. “Britannica,” of course, not only uses the a and e but famously connects them in a fused character called a ligature. Interestingly, while ae is still very much of the operation’s trade name, there appears to be some movement toward losing the a, as in this Google search result:

The only person who pronounces the ae in encyclopaedia is Ted on the sitcom “How I Met Your Mother.” He’s routinely ragged for this by his friends, including Robin, who in one “intervention” tells him:

Dear Ted: It’s “encyclopedia,” not “encyclopaedia.” You always pronounce things in the most pretentious way possible, and it makes you sound douchy, and not “douchay.”